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Imitating History: Lighting Cattaraugus County Campus, Olean, NY

By Jodie Carter, regional editor

The main focal point inside the campus is the quadrangle (quadoranogle--(n) an open rectangular yard surrounded on all four sides by buildings. Campus buildings are all connected with concrete walkways that meet in a round forum built with tumbled pavers. All the campus buildings face the four-sided clock inside a round planted area at the core of the forum. Ornamental iron benches were later installed inside the paved circle, making this area a common meeting place for students.

Jamestown Community College's new, modern Cattaraugus County Campus resides within an antique facade created, in part, by integrating rich historical details into the landscape lighting design.

Historic Downtown Olean

The town of Olean, N.Y. (pop. 2029 in 2000) lies in the Enchanted Mountains, on the southern edge of Cattaraugus County. The city of Olean, incorporated in 1893, has a rich historical heritage that includes harvesting the areas diverse lumber, (white pine, oak, beech, hickory, maple and ash logs were rafted down the Allegheny River--a navigational route downstream to the Ohio), and copious oil production that put Olean on the map (Olean was one of the first petroleum discovery's in North America). In 1863, Olean was comprised of six churches, the Olean Academy, a newspaper office, a flouring mill, a foundry, tannery and three sawmills; its population was 994.

The city of Olean is now a lively regional center with a population of more than 15,000. In the middle of historic downtown Olean, is Jamestown Community College's (JCC) newest edition, the Cattaraugus County Campus. The new campus is a $31 million dollar project taken on as a collaborative effort between the state of New York and Cattaraugus County, with large support from private corporations along with individual donations--which all came together to fund the project.

Designing the New Campus

Finalizing the location of the new campus in downtown Olean proved to be a long, controversial process. According to Larry Sorokes, dean of the new campus, the work toward designating the location had gone on for almost 20 years. Eventually the trustees and administration agreed to expand the older campus, which has been in downtown Olean since 1983. The old JCC campus included three buildings, a Montgomery Ward building, which housed classrooms, administration, student union, financial aid, counseling and the business office. A historic train station was used as a community services building and an old cold storage warehouse was used as an academic building.

PLP's Plymouth Series decorative lamp post is made of all fiberglass construction, is noncorrosive, rust-proof, nonconductive and comes in a "wrought iron" textured finish. The poles are engineered for a 5 EPA at 100 MPH with a one-third-gust factor. A clear type V wide globe was used on top.

The new campus plan called to tear down the Montgomery Ward building, turning it into much needed green space, and rejuvenating the other two buildings. The new facility now includes a new allied health and science center, student services and administrative offices, a library and liberal arts center (formerly an academic hall), a new technology center and a training and conference center.

Participation by city of Olean was integral to the efficient execution of the project because streets--major thoroughfares--had to be abandoned and a number of commercial and residential properties had to be purchased and demolished to create the new campus footprint. Utility companies worked to reroute overhead lines and underground service cables, while the city had to relocate, and realign traffic in order to convert street space into the new green space. One of the city's major traffic arteries was cut off by the new campus plan. "This [project] was very challenging because of the level of cooperation needed between the city and utility companies," says the Jamestown landscape designer, Rodney Drake, a landscape architect and principal with Habiterra, landscape architects, architects, engineers and planners. Bob Arnone, architect and president of Habiterra, designed the new campus architecture.

Looking toward the new Technology Center. A Patmore ash stands on the right side. Between the archways, wall-mount light fixtures were selected to match the historic fixtures installed in the quadrangle walkways and parking lot. Around the exterior perimeter of the building, a mulch planting bed includes Woodward's globe arborvitae (at columns), little princess spirea with small pink flowers (left side), Maresi viburnum and sunspot euonymus (right side) and smaller crimson pygmy barberry (far right).

The campus is on north Union Street, "We used the historical elements of the streets and tried to integrate the campus into that environment." They did this by drawing on the historical context of the buildings themselves, located on North Union, the main street of Olean.

The landscape lighting selected for the campus was the Boston series, decorative fiberglass lamp posts by PLP Composite Technologies, Inc. "Architects have the choice of using cast iron--what all poles were originally made of--but now poles can be construed out of aluminum or fiberglass," assures Don Wrobel, sales representative for LPS Lighting Sales. Advantages of fiber include reduced weight, durability and a promise not to rust, corrode or fail. "By molding the fiber, you still get all the ornate details that were first done with cast iron," asserts Wrobel.

Aluminum may still be the most popular pole material, but fiberglass is less expensive and more durable because aluminum oxidizes depending on the type of finished applied. "It's a soft material, snowplows and even week weed whackers can penetrate the aluminum finishes; they're not typically as strong as fiber," urges Wrobel who adds that fiber poles are low maintenance, require no painting, cost less to install and are much lighter to transport than aluminum, iron or steel. "There is significant savings in installation alone," says Wrobel. Because the poles are only 10 feet high, installation is as simple as backing a pickup truck to the base where two workers pick up the pole, drop it down on the base, and secure it by a traditional four-bolt pattern.

The ultimate goal for lighting the campus was to provide a safe, secure environment, especially for students walking to class during evening hours. "The daytime issue is that these fixtures needed to look like they belong on the site; even the new clock tower was selected to look like its been there for 70 years," states Wrobel.

Knowing this was an old community, many of the adjacent buildings had been constructed in the 1920s and 1930s, Drake wanted to specify lighting that would blend into to the historic neighborhood. "Ordering these fixtures is like ordering off a Chinese menu--you can add or subtract the decorative tops, the actual collar that connects to the pole, the "roof" or top part of the globe, the cages--you can add decorative finials to make it more ornamental," declares Drake. "As far as the poles, you select the height of the pole, the fluting, the base--you can really build from a basic catalogue of parts: You can build your own design."

Plantings in the outer circle include Woodward's globe arborvitae, crimson pygmy barberry, green luster holly, gold drop cinquefoil and Newport viburnum. The historic-looking, four-sided clock is centered inside a small planting area dotted with Shirobana spirea.

In specifying the lighting fixtures, "I chose to use the manufacturers' optional reflectors to limit the amount of light that goes up into space," says Drake who specified the globes be installed with top and side reflectors where light poles neared residential areas--like around the perimeter of the parking lots. "Because of the type of transparent globe used, there could be a lot of light escaping into the neighborhood. That wouldn't be nice for the neighbors," says Drake. "We rely on the manufacturers' recommendations to limit light pollution; without the light reflectors, the light escapes out the clear lens. With reflectors installed, the light is forced downwards--where it needs to be anyway."

Future downtown street improvements will likely utilize more of the historical lighting fixtures. "The community sees this campus as a vital part of their downtown revitalization--as they continue to refurbish the entire downtown area they will probably select lights similar to the ones used on the campus," states Drake.

Lighting Concerns

Security was always vital in the lighting design. "The city of Olean has a walking and biking trail that runs from one end of the city to another, and it happens to go right through the middle of the campus," states Drake. "Not only are we dealing with students and faculty and visitors to the campus for campus activities, but also with local residents who use the trail both day and evening." This pedestrian traffic affected the close spacing and number of the fixtures installed. It also affected the "extras" added to the fixtures; many of the lamp poles have an electrical outlet placed near the base--"so they [campus] can plug in seasonal lights, or use it for events, making it a very functional part of the campus," states Arnone.

Design Feature--The Quadrangle

The main focal point inside the campus is the quadrangle. The surrounding campus buildings are all outliers connected with walkways that meet in a center concrete forum. "All the campus buildings face this center quadrangle, this open green space," states Drake. In the middle of the small concrete forum is a 16-foot-tall, historic-looking four-sided clock. The clock--"It's the focal point on campus," says Drake. "You look out of any window on campus and you look toward the clock. It's a very period looking clock like one you might have seen at an old town square--it's a gathering place; we've installed some seating. Every day you'll see students sitting on the ornamental iron benches below the clock tower, working on projects. It's not only a visual center of the campus but has become a gathering place for students to hang out," states Drake.

A Historic Design with Practical Utility in Mind

"Even the ornamental light fixtures that provide security at night, become an architectural feature during the day," says Drake who worked with the lighting manufacturers to find the perfect balance between security and aesthetics. "The school is designated as a chemical-free campus--which adds a new dimension to the design," says Drake who designed mowing or gravel strips to be installed around the outer perimeter of buildings "so that they [maintenance workers] don't have to use mowers or weed whackers or chemicals up against the building."

The campus now includes a beautiful open green space. Looking toward the Technology Center in the background, the sloping roof on the left side of the building, covers the new Cutco Theater. Instead of planting grass seed, the entire site was sodded, and site construction was scheduled so the tree plantings were performed during the fall, one year prior to ribbon cutting. By the spring, grand opening season, the plants were leafed out and in bloom, and the entire site looked mature.

Shrubs and small trees used around the buildings consist of crimson pygmy barberry, rosy glow barberry, gold mops false cypress, dwarf winged euonymus, sunspot euonymus, green luster holly, Youngstown andorra juniper, regal privet, gold drop cinquefoil, nova zembla rhododendron, PJM rhododendron, improved dwarf red spirea, little princess spirea, Shirobana spirea, snowmound spirea, dense yew, Woodward's globe arborvitae, mahawk viburnum, compact European viburnum, mariesi doublefile viburnum, shadblow serviceberry, gaulean Chinese dogwood and ivory silk tree lilac.

Rhododendrons were planted to soften the base of the building, and to help with maintaining the lawn around the building. Arbor vitae and holly were used as foundation plantings. The historic-looking, four-sided clock is centered inside a small planting area dotted with Shirobana spirea. The outer circle is planted with Woodward's globe arborvitae, crimson pygmy barberry, green luster holly, gold drop cinquefoil and Newport viburnum.

Looking north, from the archway of the Technology Center, towards the four-sided clock, a Patmore ash tree stands on the left. The symmetrical pin oaks in the background are mature trees that were already present on the site. A former mayor of Olean had donated these oaks.

Trees including celebration maple, fireball red maple, Patmore ash, Halka honeylocust, Cleveland select pear, and greenspire linden were planted "so that the trees would be adequately spaced--so they would not be the dominant elements in the quadrangle," says Drake.

Instead of seeding the site, everything was sodded, "which was a tremendous benefit," asserts Drake. "In the end, it wasn't more costly--simply because the contractor laid the sod, did the adequate watering, and did not have to come back and redo areas and maintain them for months and months. All these labor savings helped out." Site construction was scheduled "so the tree plantings were performed during the fall, one year prior to ribbon-cutting-- so they were actually leafed out and in bloom for the spring and summer grand opening season," enthuses Drake. "Instead of having a campus that was half-done because the outside was not mature, the campus looked like it had been there a long time."

Phase one of the campus construction established a new large parking lot that could serve 250 cars. This lot used the same historical lights that were used along the campus quadrangle walkways. This new lot was an important critical path in the construction schedule. "It had to be completed before demolishing the old parking lot--because the old lot would become the start of the new [quadrangle] green space," asserts Drake.

Phase two involved building construction and demolition for the remainder of the project, construction of the quadrangle green space and rejuvenation of two of the existing campus buildings. Because of the heritage of this downtown area, many existing historical buildings were used to expand the campus. The original train depot, which the campus bought from the city of Olean, has been renovated with a new roof and converted into a campus conference center and training facility. "It still looks like a railroad depot in every way," assures Drake who added fencing behind the building to close off the train tracks for safety purposes. This fencing continues at the gateway entrance to the campus, with a large iron and steel gateway arch. One of the other buildings used to start the campus was a wood frame bank building. The campus added onto the old bank building to create the College Center which includes student services administrative, admission, financial aid, health center, a Counseling and Career Planning Center, Campus Store, Student Union and dining rooms. Other additions to the campus include an Allied Health and Science Center, Library and Liberal Arts Center, Technology Center and Training and Conference Center--giving the campus a total of almost 155,000-square-feet of interior space.

The 16-foot-tall, four-sided clock was chosen to look like a clock you might have seen in the 1930s at an old town square. The circle has become a gathering place; almost every day you can see students sitting on the ornamental iron benches placed just outside the circle, working on projects. The decorative light posts that provide security at night, become an architectural feature during the day.

One of the last construction items was the demolition of the Montgomery Ward building which housed administration, classrooms and a science lab. "This was replaced with new construction," says Drake. "We turned it into more green space that bridges Union Street to the campus."

Details from the finials on light posts to the curves of an ornamental bench were all designed to assimilate within the existing historical setting. "Every piece, every decision that you make on a major project like this makes its own impact," asserts Drake. "The choice of lighting was very apres pro to the style of the adjacent buildings, and the age and style of the city. The fixtures enhance the walkways and green space that will become the focal point of the campus for years to come. If you put the wrong light fixture in, it would detract from the city--with these, you almost don't even see them, and they just become part of the ambience."

The new Cattaraugus County Campus, which took two years to build, reflects the nature of the community as an old northeast city, a small town with lots of character and pride. But don't take our word for it. View the campus from a live web cam at, on the Jamestown Community College web site.

History of Olean

This postcard image depicts the historic "Olean House," the premeire Olean hotel in the early 1900s, operating well into the 1960s.

The city of Olean was founded in the early 1800s, when Ohio had just been admitted to the Union, and the West was growing into its identity as a symbol of challenge and adventure for hundreds of eager settlers raring to build a new nation.

Olean's early development grew from its location on the Allegheny River, which offered those migrating west, a navigational route downstream to the Ohio. But it was lumber more than navigational advantages that fostered the growth of permanent settlement in the area. The topography was covered with magnificent stands of white pine, oak, beech, hickory, maple and ash. Huge rafts were built using large tree logs, strung together in barge lines and navigated down the river, often by Indians.

The neighborhood of Oil Spring (one of the first petroleum discovery's in North America) suggested an appropriate name for the area, but may have been a little too direct and eventually the name Olean (the Latin word for oil) was chosen.

Development of Olean as a city began back in 1872, around the time when the Washington and Buffalo Railroad (the Pennsylvania) was completed. By 1874, the city of Olean had become a railroad center of petroleum operations in Bradford territory. Olean's shipments of oil had grown from a few barrels to over 20,000 barrels a day.

By 1878, Olean had 150 paying wells in the area, and by the early 1900s Olean had become a well-established industrial center.

A map of the area, prepared in 1808 for Major Hoops--the revolutionary army officer who had obtained a deed to the land--showed a public square, a site for a school, a 'burying ground' and several streets, which later became the central thoroughfares, Union and State streets.

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October 20, 2019, 8:21 pm PDT

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